Scientist, academic wants to involve parents in classrooms as school board candidate

Syed A. Jamal, a research scientist and educator, is one of several candidates to apply for the Lawrence school board position vacated by Kristie Adair last month.

When moms and dads are involved in their children’s education, Syed A. Jamal says, students thrive. As an educator and father himself, Jamal wants to bring parents into the classrooms — and, in his case, onto the school board.

The research scientist and academic is among the 13 (and counting) applicants for the school board seat left vacant by Kristie Adair last month. Jamal, whose three children attend Lawrence’s Sunflower Elementary School and Southwest Middle School, says he’s been involved over the years with his kids’ classes, often visiting for science demonstrations or research presentations.

He says parents are often an untapped resource in the classroom, and he wants to use his position, if selected for the board, to foster that community connection.

“I think there are people like my wife, people from many different backgrounds and other cultures, formally and informally, who can bring a lot of experience, knowledge and innovative thinking to the classrooms,” says Jamal, 54.

Syed A. Jamal, a research scientist and educator, is one of several candidates to apply for the Lawrence school board position vacated by Kristie Adair last month.

Born in Bangladesh to Indian parents, Jamal arrived in the Kansas City area as a student in 1987. He attended Rockhurst University, earning bachelor’s degrees in biology, biochemistry and philosophy in 1997, before earning his master’s degree in pharmaceutical sciences from the University of Missouri-Kansas City in 2001. A decade ago, he moved to Lawrence, where he’s currently “taking a break” from his doctoral studies in biomedicine and epidemiology at the University of Kansas.

Jamal, who says he’s “always had an interest in education,” has spent the last several years teaching at area colleges, among them his alma mater of Rockhurst. When he’s not in the classroom, Jamal also works as a research scientist at his brother’s startup company, Jives Biotech, and on radiation of heavy metal ions, among other intellectual pursuits.

If appointed to the school board, Jamal says he’d like to focus on public health measures and better integrating environmental sciences into school curricula.

“We need a little battalion of doctors and nurses waiting to treat people when they’re sick … That should start more in the classroom,” he says of hands-on instruction that would go beyond “just teaching them the book.”

There are several challenges facing the Lawrence district, Jamal recognizes, including racial achievement gaps, recruiting and retaining a diverse teaching corps, growing class sizes, and, of course, the ever-present issue of school funding.

“I think I’m pretty optimistic that good things are being done in the Lawrence school district,” he says. Jamal also says he believes “we could do better,” and he wants to help.

The deadline to submit a school board application is 5 p.m. Monday. School board members will review applications at their March 13 meeting and then appoint one applicant to serve the remainder of Adair’s term, which ends on Jan. 8, 2018.

As of Friday evening, the district had received 13 applicants for the position. Within the last week, two candidates, Victoria Anderson and Enoch Kaulaity, withdrew their applications. Three additional candidates also filed this week: Jo Ann Trenary, Linda J. Sheppard and Jesse Brinson.